William Painter (author)

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William Painter (or Paynter; 1540? – February 1595, in London[1]) was an English author and translator.

Personal life

Painter was long believed to be a native of Kent due to confusion with a contemporary namesake who matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1554.[2][3]

Painter was married about 1565 to Dorothy Bonham, with whom he had at least five known children - a son and four daughters. By 1587 their son Anthony had joined his father in his government work.[3]

Painter made an oral will dated 14 February 1594 and died between 19 and 22 February 1595.[3] He was buried in St Olave Hart Street, London, not far from the Tower.[3]

Administrative career

In 1561 he became clerk of the ordnance in the Tower of London, a post he was to hold for the remainder of his life. In 1566 the lieutenant-general of the ordnance. Edward Randolph, supplemented Painter's income by granting him an annuity and pension.[3]

Throughout his career, there were accusations of fraud and abuse of his position to amass a personal fortune out of the public funds. This came to a point in 1586 when the surveyor of the ordnance, John Powell, accused Painter and two others of peculation (embezzlement).[3] As his co-accused were already deceased, only Painter could defend himself and he confessed that he owed the government a sum of just over a thousand pounds.[3] Although Painter offered to repay the amount, the debt was not discharged until the time of Painter's grandson due delays in his lifetime, and the discovery of more discrepancies following his death.[3] It is notable that the accusations of embezzlement are formed of charges and countercharges between government officials, underlining the endemic corruption in the Elizabethan civil service.[3]

Literary work

Painter began translating works in 1558 with a translation of Nicholas à Moffan's Soltani Soymanni Turcorum Imperatoris horrendum facinus into English, under the title of Horrible and Cruell Murder of Sultan Solyman. This work was later to become Novel 34 in his The Palace of Pleasure.[3]

The first volume of his The Palace of Pleasure appeared in 1566, and was dedicated to the earl of Warwick. It included sixty tales, and was followed in the next year by a second volume containing thirty-four new ones. A second improved edition in 1575 contained seven new stories. Painter borrows from Herodotus, Boccaccio, Plutarch, Aulus Gellius, Aelian, Livy, Tacitus, Quintus Curtius; from Giovanni Battista Giraldi, Matteo Bandello,[4] Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, Giovanni Francesco Straparola, Queen Marguerite de Navarre and others.

The fashion for the Italian setting of a notably large proportion of Elizabethan drama is in part due to the vogue of Painter's work, and to other similar collections.

The early tragedies Appius and Virginia, and Tancred and Gismund were taken from The Palace of Pleasure. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Edward III, and All's Well That Ends Well are all derived from Painter's collections, the last from his translation of Giletta of Narbonne. Other playwrights also made extensive use of his work and that of similar contemporary translators, with these believed to have inspired well-known works such as Beaumont and Fletcher's Triumph of Death, John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (from Belleforest), and James Shirley's Love's Cruelty.[3]

The Palace of Pleasure was edited by Joseph Haslewood in 1813. This edition was collated (1890) with the British Museum copy of 1575 by Mr. Joseph Jacobs, who added further prefatory matter, including an introduction dealing with the importance of Italian novella in Elizabethan drama.

It is suggested that Painter is responsible for the 1580 work A Moorning Diti upon the Deceas of the High and Mighti Prins Henri, Earl of Arundel, attributed to Guil. P. G.[3]


Painter's contemporary namesake attended Cambridge between 1554 and 1557, but left without taking a degree. This William Painter was appointed as headmaster of Sevenoaks School in Kent in 1560. The headmaster was ordained as a deacon in the same year and later took up a post as vicar of Grain, Kent which he held until 1563. Like the more famous William Painter, this Painter also undertook translations, and is known to have published a translation of William Fulke's Antiprognosticon. The deacon died in about 1597, two years after his namesake, leaving a widow, Winifred. Both William Painters were buried in London, but the deacon was interred at St Mary Aldermanbury to the west side of the City of London.


  1. ^ "William Painter". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  2. ^ "Painter, William (PNTR554W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kelly, L. G. (2004). "Painter, William (1540?–1595)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21135. Retrieved 2012-07-06.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  4. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of A Short Biographical Dictionary Of English Literature, by John W. Cousin". gutenberg.org. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 


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